Don Camalèo

A Novel About a Chameleon

In affectionate memory
Piero Gobetti1
who first had the idea for Don Camalèo
and—had death not forbidden it—
would have been its publisher


That Don Camalèo exists will no doubt provoke intense displeasure among many people: that is, among those who (cravenly, in the exact same spirit as those others who, over the past twenty years, did their best, using every available means, to suppress literary freedom and to humiliate writers) are doing their best today, using every available means, to accredit the stupid and malicious fairytale that the entirety of Italian literature of those sad years was nothing but a sycophantic and servile literature.

Such accusations of sycophancy and cowardliness have been directed against Italian writers either by the most petty-minded of sectarians, and in bad faith, or by talentless intellectuals (those who lacked talent yesterday, lack it today, and will lack it tomorrow since, just as tyranny doesn’t extinguish talent in whoever possesses it, so freedom doesn’t bestow talent upon whoever is deficient in it), or by political men, exceedingly notable in their field, who, after seeking refuge abroad to escape violence and persecution, have, for the past twenty years, in the papers they printed in Paris, London, and New York, vehemently exhorted Italian writers either to abandon writing or to write openly against Mussolini.

It is undignified to reply to fools and sectarians acting in bad faith. As for the political émigrés, one must insist, with all due respect: that a writer doesn’t simply break his pen in two in the presence of a tyrant who prohibits him from writing as he pleases, rather he tempers and sharpens it and seeks to write between the lines, saying secretly what he can’t say openly; that in a country subjugated by a tyrant, one can’t write openly against tyranny; and, that, if it is legitimate to flee abroad to free countries to escape persecution, it is neither honest nor fair, from such a distant and safe place of refuge, to reproach those who remained in Italy for not ending the masquerade, as they used to say, and for not facing, openly and unarmed, the very same violence from which they themselves escaped by fleeing. It is necessary to reply that in the centuries-old story of the struggle for Italian freedom, examples abound of books printed across the border, in Lugano, in London, in Brussels, in the Hague, and in Amsterdam, that were later furtively introduced into Italy, but when it comes to books printed underground in Italy, there is no example, nor could there be, and this is true not only for us, but for every other nation; that writers (by which I mean literary and not political writers) rarely emigrate because they know, through centuries-old experience, that exile works to depress and to dry up literary genius; that, in fact, during the past twenty years, all Italian writers, except for two, remained in Italy2 and they remained not to defend this or that political doctrine, but to defend the liberty and dignity of literature; that during these twenty years, many of those who remained fought and suffered—I myself among them—paying for their own moral and intellectual independence with prison, with internal exile, and with humiliations of every kind, and, for that, they deserve respect no less than the so-called political martyrs and heroes, even though certain people may attempt to devalue of the suffering of these writers, almost as if the only people worthy of respect are those who suffered prison and internal exile for political reasons; and that to be convinced of what I have just said, one need only read some of the best books that have appeared in Italy during the last twenty years, among them my Don Camalèo. Indeed, the examples of moral and intellectual independence provided by Italian writers during those sad years are numerous, certainly much more numerous than those found in other nations such as Germany and even France, to say the least; and this one book, Don Camelèo, should suffice to shut the mouths of all of the fools and ideologues acting out of bad faith.

If one reads Don Camalèo, one sees that Italian literature has no need to justify itself, especially with respect to certain people. No other book has appeared in Italy during the past twenty years that more boldly ridicules and opposes the men and systems of tyranny, and it is a credit, not only to my courage, but to the courage of all those writers who defended the liberty and dignity of literature in the Italy during those servile years. This needs saying especially to all those who took great care during the past twenty years not to compromise themselves with a single page or line but rather applied themselves to writing about rain and good weather, and who today proclaim themselves the heroes and martyrs not merely to literary freedom—that would be too little!—but to the freedom of Italy herself.

I wrote Don Camalèo in 1926 for the publisher Piero Gobetti who had given me the idea for it and for whom I had already written Italia barbara.3 But just as I was appending the words “The End” to the manuscript of Don Camalèo, I received a telegram from Gobetti, to whom I was bound by an old and affectionate friendship, urging me to come immediately to Turin to see him.

He had sent for me in the same way on previous occasions, as, for example, after a group of veterans wounded in the war had beaten him up on account of an insulting note about Delcroix.4 I thought that something similar might have occurred and caught the first train as soon as possible. I reached Turin in the evening and went directly from the station to his house where I dined with him and his wife. His son had only recently been born and Gobetti, showing him off to me, said: “And to think that I must leave him!” After dinner he announced to me that he had decided to abandon Italy, and that he would leave for Paris the day after next, where he would set up an Italian publishing house around Liberal Revolution5 to which I myself had been a regular contributor; he also invited me to follow him to Paris to assist him in this endeavor. Given the conditions to which the new police laws had reduced intellectual existence, to stay in Italy meant, he told me, to condemn oneself to a humiliating existence, one that would be open to and defenseless against all kinds of persecutions and violence. Above all, it meant renouncing one’s very freedom as a writer.

I replied that while the political writer has many legitimate reasons to prefer exile to slavery, the man of letters, even though he may have the same reasons to prefer exile to a life of servitude, cannot emigrate because he is bound to his own language, his own land, his own people, and to the fate of his own people on account of ties that are not simply intellectual but almost, I would say, physical; that emigration, as centuries-old experience has proven, is fatal to literature; that, for that reason, I was choosing to remain in Italy and that I preferred—and was duty-bound to prefer—fighting to exile; and that one day, the moral resistance of the Italian people to tyranny would be judged not only by the political writings of émigrés, but above all by the literary works of those writers who had remained in Italy.

We argued at length over this and other problems, and we parted with the promise that I would send him the manuscript of Don Camalèo as soon as I had completed the last chapter. We didn’t bid one another farewell, but rather “until we meet again.” He was more pale than usual, but he was smiling. I noticed that his glasses were somewhat misty. Piero Gobetti departed for Paris where, most tragically, he died several weeks later.

The manuscript of Don Camalèo remained shut away in my desk drawer for a long period during which time occasions arose when I read several chapters from it: in Paris, to Daniel Halévy and Giuseppe Prezzolini; in Rome to Cecil Sprigge of the Manchester Guardian, to Percy Winner of the Associated Press, and to Mc. Lure, who had previously been the Times’ Rome correspondent for many years and who was, at the time, the Press Attaché at the English embassy.6 At the start of 1928, I entered into a contract for the book publication of Don Camalèo with the publishing house of La Voce, which sent the manuscript to be typeset by the Riuniti firm in Bologna.7 I also announced its forthcoming publication, as edited by Leo Longanesi, in the “about the author” page of my Arcitaliano (La Voce, Rome, 1928).8 At the same time, and with the permission of La Voce, I granted the serialization rights of Don Camalèo to the weekly magazine La chiosa, which was the literary supplement of the Giornale di Genova9.

As a result, my novel appeared in serial form in the magazine La chiosa, under the title: Don Camalèo, or I raised a chameleon. But when the publication had all but reached the final chapters, a storm broke out: Mussolini ordered the Prefect of Genoa to suspend the publication of Don Camalèo, to seize the copy of the manuscript that the Riuniti plant in Bologna was already in the process of printing, and to prohibit a book edition from appearing. Dr. Calcagno was summoned to Rome and it seemed that he would lose his job as the director of the Giornale di Genova, but he succeeded—how, I don’t know—in saving himself. The magazine La chiosa was shut down soon afterwards; the La Voce publishing house fell upon hard times and, soon thereafter, had to end its storied and glorious activity, which had been so intimately tied to the fortunes of modern Italian literature. I was summoned by Mussolini, who, in the grip of blind fury, went so far as to insult me in a vulgar way, while threatening to reduce me to hunger. In fact, I was no longer able to collaborate on newspapers and I endured many unhappy months. How many misfortunes was my poor Don Camalèo not the cause! Nevertheless, whoever reads my novel will have to admit that Mussolini, on that occasion, showed himself to be much more generous than anyone had a right to expect.

Some time ago, in the course of searching through the dusty drawers of a typographic counter, the head typesetter of the Riuniti works in Bologna discovered the galleys of Don Camalèo, which had already been proofed and were ready to be printed, and he had them forwarded to Leo Longanesi. In that way, I rediscovered the integral text of my novel, which today returns to light at a time in which chameleons seem to enjoy a great and deserved success: and for that reason I hope that Don Camalèo may also be successful since we are dealing with a book that one would think had been written not in 1926, but today, for the men and things of contemporary Italy.

If Don Camalèo had not been published in 1928 while Mussolini was alive, I might refuse to have it printed today. If it is true that the dead can’t defend themselves, it is hardly praiseworthy of a writer to shower ridicule upon a corpse. But inasmuch as, in the case of my novel, I showered ridicule on Mussolini while he could defend himself and was much stronger than I was, no legitimate reason can dissuade me from republishing it today. All the more so in that never having feared Mussolini while he was alive, I am not about to place myself among those, and there are many millions of them, who are no longer afraid of him now that he is dead and buried.

How many, among those who now accuse Italian literature of the last twenty years of sycophancy and cowardice, would have dared to write and publish, in 1926 and in 1928, a single page of this novel of mine? How many of those who today make themselves out as freedom’s martyrs, would have dared to expose Mussolini to derision back then, or to construct a parallel between him and a chameleon for more than 300 pages, thus placing him directly on the same level as a four-legged animal? How many, back then, would have dared to write that “no one in Italy knew for sure which of the two was the real chameleon, and which of the two was the real Mussolini?” Certain chapters of Don Camalèo, apart from their literary value, which I am incapable of judging, are a credit not only me but to the courage and moral and intellectual independence of all Italian writers, and they bear witness to the dignity of an entire period—an extremely important one—of our literature.

And if people now find my novel to be enormously relevant, I would respond that the reason they do is because it is enormously relevant, and that I am not to blame if Italian history never changes, if the characters of Italian political comedy always remain the same, and if Don Camalèo, beyond being simply being a creature of my imagination, constitutes one of the eternal masks of Italian life.

Now that Don Camalèo is returning to the light, I need to be wary, as I was back then, not so much of the arrogance of the masters, as much as of the cowardice and treachery of the servants. As I previously had occasion to write several years ago in the preface to Fughe in prigione (Vallechi, Firenze, 1936), the story is an old one in Italy: for Italians the problem “is not to live free in freedom, but to live free inside a prison.”10 And this, too is a story that is many hundreds of years old; Italian literature has always had to defend its own dignity and its own liberty not only against the masters, but above all against the servants, the latter being much more dangerous than the former, since while the masters may change, the servants remain and are always the same.

And perhaps this is the reason why free men in Italy are much more disgusted by the servants than by the masters.

C. M.

(Firenze, April 1946)

I. My Early Experiences. Luigi Bossi’s Epistle On Basilisks, Dragons, and the Count de la Cepède’s Disbelief in Their Existence.11

Many strange animals, and not all of them political, live among us, more because of the artificial and unstable climate in Italy these last hundred years than on account of their nature. Has anyone ever seen a salamander, a basilisk, a dragon, or a chameleon? We would have lost even the slightest memory of them if, every now and again, certain gentlemen, who much like these strange creatures are equally rare, didn’t chance upon and later testify to their existence. Exceptional cases. And yet medieval chronicles, not to mention ancient fables, are filled with just such exceptional cases.

While I was studying Latin and Greek at the Cicognini in Prato, the Tuscan city where I was born, I myself had occasion to encounter this rare species of animals more than once; and God only knows how much innocence was required on my part to avoid forming an exaggerated opinion of myself.12

As is inevitably the case, my first encounters were more literary in nature than anything else since we come to experience life first through writing; this is especially true in Tuscany, where everything—virtues, vices, and passions—receives a literary form. As someone born in Prato, which means being a Tuscan thrice-over, I have always held literature and animals in great esteem, no doubt as a consequence of spending time with the good-natured Firenzuola, who abounded in love for my city and became citizen even though he was not born there.13

But the first information I gleaned, for example, about salamanders, left me very much in doubt as to the profit to be gained from such knowledge. It came to me while reading that passage from The Life of Benvenuto Cellini where he speaks of a salamander and a famous slap in the face.14 The sting from that slap remained on my own cheek until the day when I happened to read these two jolting lines of verse in Petrarch:

I feed on my death and live in fire;
a strange food and a marvelous salamander15

My knowledge of salamanders extended no further, and I remained content with it for a few months—that is, until one evening I found myself near the Sacca, on the Fossombrone hill, and I had the idea of setting fire to the woods to see if the salamanders, who surely existed there, would behave as their reputation suggested they would.16

Once I had set fire to some branches, the wind immediately increased the flames, and in no time the entire hillside was ablaze. I then used a stick I had broken off from the vineyards below to poke around the embers and to rain huge blows on the bushes that remained on fire, extremely curious to see if one of those salamanders, of whose existence Benvenuto’s father had supplied me with such convincing proof, would come out into the open. And God knows how long I would have remained there, poking around with the stick in the wake of the fire as it swept up the hill, if I had not suddenly spotted a snake—one of those that spends summer hissing under rocks to make the cicadas envious—angrily approaching. This prompted a hasty retreat to the Sacca, which was lucky for me since farmers from Fossombrone, armed with shovels and hoes and running from all over behind barking dogs, were already on their way up to stem the fire. And if they had caught me, I would certainly have stopped thinking about salamanders, nor would I have gone hunting for dragons and basilisks a few months later in accordance with the curious epistolary remarks that Luigi Bossi had penned concerning the Count of Cepède’s disbelief.

The aforementioned Luigi Bossi had lived much earlier before I was born, that is in the second half of the eighteenth century; but having been born so far in advance of the century of progress in no way diminished his authority: a member of the patrician class and a University Doctor and Full Canonical Professor at Milan’s Metropolitan Church, he was also a Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Mantua, a member of the Philogeorgic Society of Farm Economics in Florence, and a member of the Etruscan Academy in Cortona. Added to my respect for academicians was the satisfaction I derived, in Bossi’s case, from many delightful and malicious things he had to said about the Count de la Cepède, the French naturalist and disciple of Buffon, in his epistle of 1790 on “Basilisks, dragons, and other animals believed to be legendary,” which he wrote in the solitude of Fagnano, dedicated to His Excellency, the Count and Commendatore Gian Rinaldo Carli, and had printed in Milan in 1792 by the presses of Luigi Veladini located in the Contrada Nuova.17

Bossi’s strange and by now quite rare epistle—a good copy of which may be found in the library of the Communal Palace in Montepulciano, but not in the card catalog—had been given to me as a gift in my third year of Latin studies by the Canon of the Roncioniana in Prato.18 And God only knows how much the reading of that learned and most conscientious disquisition has strengthened me in the hope of one day meeting one of those extremely strange creatures. Naturally I was on the side of the illustrious academic from the Metropolitan Church of Milan and against de la Cepède’s presumptuousness:

As you know the Count de la Cepède is continuing, with great distinction, the Natural History of Animals which the Count de Buffon had nearly carried through to completion. Up until now, several volumes containing The History of Oviparous Quadripeds and Serpents have appeared, and it is these that I am perusing at present during my involuntary stay in the country. But if you could only see what my eyes have alighted upon while reading just now. Among the ranks of these sorts of animals one invariably finds listed two types of lizards to whom the capricious mania of the taxonomists (nomenclatori) has assigned the pompous names Basilisk and Dragon. With respect to these quite insignificant little animals, which are hardly worth allowing onto the great chain of being, the French naturalist speaks of those Basilisks and Dragons that have been known, extolled, worshipped, and feared since remotest antiquity; he rapidly surveys these beings with an arrogant and disdainful air of superiority and turns everything into something ridiculous, as if there never had existed Basilisks and Dragons other than the lizards that go by the names zoological naturalists have given to them in recent times. Can one be happy with such a manner of writing? As for me, because I have a high regard, when it comes to antiquity, even for legendary things, and because I am thoroughly convinced that even the most absurd inventions and popular opinions of the most distant times have received support from solid and valid principles, I find such a manner of writing to be not only frivolous and wanting, but also insulting and insolent, even though it subtracts nothing from the other wonderful parts of this work or from the intrinsic value of this very same writer. Do not disdain, Your Excellency, to turn your attention, as I do, to these horrible monsters, and you will see that I am not wrong to complain of this Gallic arrogance.

Ah, the Count de la Cepède! As one will readily understand, I felt a deep gratitude for the illustrious academician Bossi, an honest, resolute and disinterested defender of ancient legends—and even of the errors of the ancients—against the vainglorious and know-it-all presumptuousness displayed by the disbelieving and irreverent Frenchman.

But no matter how long I read and reread Bossi’s epistolary disquisition, comparing the animals he described there with the lizards in the garden of our house, I was never able to run across one sole basilisk or even one miserable dragon. Could it be that the Count de la Cepède was right after all? Life teaches us to put the vanity of legends to the test: such, indeed, was my first experience of doing just that. And from that day forward, I have always been suspicious of ancient authority, to the extent of believing that men, animals, and entire peoples now exist that were lacking in antiquity, that is, in authority. And from that day, even the people of my home town of Prato appeared to me to be similar to Mohammed, who according to Pascal, was a prophet without authority, inasmuch as he lacked a prophetic tradition.19 And as for the animals that I knew about in my city, I came to believe that whether they lived inside or outside of the city walls they were all domestic creatures and naturally all from Prato.

II. The capture of Rome. My chat with Mussolini about the existence of legendary creatures.

It was only many years later, namely in the year 1922, that I happened to meet a chameleon. Could it be that Count de la Cepède was wrong after all? Human experiences are so varied that you end up no longer being amazed by novelties and accept them as ordinary occurrences instead. Though young, I had already convinced myself that legends were worthless and I guarded myself from an inevitable and oftentimes dangerous astonishment with the thought that everything—including even the strangest of facts—contributes to the customary forms of a quiet life.

When, in October 1922, Mussolini’s black-shirted legions entered Rome, I was fortunate enough to be little more than twenty years old. The sweet air of that Roman October didn’t allow me to anticipate all of the disappointments of the revolutionary events of those days; but the laziness, which the air, smelling of new wine, released in my blood, prevented me from taking to the streets to join the ranks of the noisy and aggressive crowd of angry war veterans.20 I was looking out of my window, watching them pass by in triumph through the banner-draped streets of Rome, and I remained at the window the entire day, saddened in my heart that I would not be able to remain there for the rest of my life. Neither then nor later has it ever entered my mind to complain about my fate: the fact of having been able to look out of that window was the first and only benefit I ever received from Mussolini’s revolution and I will always be grateful to Italian history for it.

From that day forward, out of a concern not to interfere with the opportunities open to others, I had taken to horseback riding each morning on the Villa Borghese paths.


1. Piero Gobetti (1901-1926) was an Italian journalist and liberal intellectual who was born and lived in Turin. In February 1922, he began publishing La Rivoluzione Liberale (Liberal Revolution), a journal in which he promoted his ideas for a renewal of Italian political and cultural life. A staunch opponent of Mussolini and Italian Fascism, his journal was repeated confiscated and ceased publication in November 1924. That same year Gobetti was assaulted by fascist thugs. In February 1926 he emigrated to Paris where he died soon afterwards. Gobetti’s short life and tragic death made him into a symbol of liberal anti-fascism to intellectuals such as Carlo Levi and Norberto Bobbio. See Piero Gobetti, On Liberal Revolution, New Haven: Yale U. P., 2000.

2. There is no way to know who Malaparte has in mind here but two likely candidates are Giuseppe Prezzolini (1882-1982), a close friend of Malaparte’s, who founded the celebrated literary magazine La Voce in 1908 and who emigrated to the United States in 1929 where he taught at Columbia University, and Ignazio Silone, who left Italy in 1927 and settled in Switzerland in 1930 before returning to Italy in 1943.

3. Gobetti published Italia barbara, a collection of essays in which Malaparte defends fascism as a new type of Counter-Reformation destined to return Italy to its authentic cultural roots, in 1925. In a note that accompanied its publication, Gobetti wrote that he published this “book by an enemy,” in order to allow his normal liberal readership the opportunity to read and understand the ideas that flowed from “fascism’s strongest pen.”

4. Carlo Delcroix (1896-1977) was one of the founders and later president of the Associazione nazionale dei mutilate e degli invalidi di guerra (National Association for Wounded War Veterans) following the First World War. An ardent fascist, he later served Mussolini as a fascist deputy in Parliament.

5. See note 1.

6. Daniel Halévy (1862-1962) was a widely respected French historian and man of letters who became a close friend of Malaparte in the 1930s. For information on Giuseppe Prezzolini, see note 2. In addition to reporting for the Manchester Guardian, Cecil Sprigge (1896-1959) was the author numerous books on Italian history such as The Development of Modern Italy (1943). Percy Winner (1899-1974) went on to write a novel entitled Dario (1947) in which the protagonist, Dario Duevolti (Dario Two-Faces) is a not-so-thinly veiled portrait of Malaparte as Winner recalled him being in the 1920s. In the case of Mc. Lure (sic), Malaparte is referring to Hugh Alexander McClure Smith (1902-1961), a newspaper editor and diplomat.

7. Prezzolini ended his editorship of La Voce in 1914, after which point the magazine’s name was transferred to a small, but prestigious, book publishing company.

8. Leo Longanesi (1905-1957), journalist, painter, and editor, was one of the most entertaining cultural impresarios in the cultural panorama of fascist Italy; Malaparte’s book, L’Arcitaliano, is collection of poetry that appeared in 1928.

9. The word “la chiosa” generally means commentary or gloss; in the context of this journal’s title “critique” might be an appropriate translation.

10. Malaparte was arrested in October 1933 and sentenced to internal exile on the island of Lipari for “anti-fascist activities.” He wrote Fughe in Prigione, a collection of highly stylized and lyrical short stories, soon after his release in 1936.

11. Luigi Bossi (1758-1835) was the author of numerous treatises of natural history and geology. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991: 110, defines a basilisk is as “a fabulous reptile alleged to be hatched by a serpent from a cock’s egg: ancient authors stated that its hissing drove away all other serpents, and that its breath, and even its look, was fatal.”

12. The Cicognini was established as a convent in Prato in the 17th century. It was later transformed into a college and in 1882 it became a national boarding school where many famous intellectuals studied, among them Gabriele D’Annunzio and Curzio Malaparte.

13. Agnolo Firenzuolo (1493-1545) was a poet and writer who was born in Florence but, as Malaparte says, went to live in Prato where he produced satirical poems and collections of stories similar to those by Boccaccio.

14. The passage to which Malaparte refers is as follows:

When I was around the age of five, Giovanni, my father, was in one of our small rooms where some washing had been done and there was a good oak-wood fire burning, and he was playing with his viola in his arms and singing all alone near the fire. It was extremely cold: gazing at the fire, in the midst of the brightest flames, he happened to catch sight of a little animal like a lizard which delighted in that intense blaze. Immediately realizing what the little animal was, he called my sister and me, and, while showing it to us children, he gave me such a hard slap that I immediately broke out crying. Then he gently consoled me and spoke to me in this fashion: ‘My dearest little boy, I did not slap you because of something you did wrong but only so you will remember that this lizard you have seen in the fire is a salamander, which has never before been seen by anyone else as far as we know.’ And then he kissed me and gave me a few quattrini.

Benvenuto Cellini, My Life, trans. and ed. Julia Conaway Bondanella, Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2002: 9. The ancients considered the salamander capable of living within a fire without being destroyed by it, a notion transmitted by folklore to the Renaissance.

15. From Sonnet 207. In the poem, written in 1346, Petrarch rhapsodizes over his lady’s eyes and describes the wondrous salamander as being as natural as the will to live:

I’ve searched more than a thousand ways by now to see if there is any mortal thing could keep me living just one day without them.
My soul which finds its rest no other place keeps running still to those angelic sparks, and I, a man of wax, melt in the flame.
I look around to see
Where what I most desire is least guarded, and like a bird in branches that’s captured
quicker where it’s least afraid, so from her lovely face I steal first one and then another
glance and by them I’m both nourished and I burn.
I feed on my own death and live in the flames, a strange food and a wondrous salamander!

Petrarch, Canzoniere, trans. Mark Musa, Bloomington: Indiana U. P., 1992: 302.

16. Both of these locations, le Sacca and the Fossombrone hill, lie a few kilometers to the north of Prato. Malaparte would have been quite familiar with both; his father worked at an industrial plant nearby and the Cicognini maintained a summer villa in the area.

17. M. le comte de Bernard German Etienne de la Ville sur Illon, the Count de la Cepède (1756-1825) was a French natural historian. Gian Rinaldo Carli (1720-1795) was a politician and economist who from 1765 to 1780 was the Parliamentary Magistrate for the province of Lombardy during the period of Austrian rule.

18. At his death, the nobleman Marco di Emilio Roncioni (1596-1677) provided in his last will and testament for the construction of a public library to be directed by a cleric from Prato and to be administered by a council representing six noble families from Prato. The neoclassical Roncioniana library was constructed in Prato between 1751 and 1766.

19. “Mahomet est sans autorité. Il faudrait donc que ses raisons fussent bien puissantes; n’ayant que leur proper force.” Blaise Pascal, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 2, Paris: Gallimard, 2000: 967.

20. Because of fictional self-portraits of this kind, many people have believed that Malaparte himself actually took part in the March on Rome. In fact, however, he did not.


Curzio Malaparte

Curzio Malaparte (1898-1957) was an Italian journalist, dramatist, short-story writer, novelist, and diplomat. Born Kurt Erich Suckert in Prato, Tuscany, he fought in World War I and began using the pseudonym Malaparte, a pun on the name Bonaparte, in 1925. An early supporter of the Italian Fascist movement and a prolific journalist, Malaparte quickly established himself as an outspoken public figure. In 1931, he incurred Mussolini’s displeasure by publishing a how-to manual entitled Technique of the Coup-d’Etat, which led to his arrest and a brief term in prison. During World War II, Malaparte worked as a correspondent, for much of the time on the Eastern Front, and this experience provided the basis for his two most famous books, Kaputt (1944) and The Skin (1949). From November 1943 to March 1946, he was attached to the American High Command in Italy as an Italian Liaison Officer. After the war, Malaparte’s political sympathies veered to the left, and he became a member of the Italian Communist Party.

Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald ( is currently working on a biography of Curzio Malaparte. His article “We Are What We Speak,” a review of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature by Steven Pinker, will appear in the Summer (May/June) 2008 issue of The American Interest.

Don Camalèo. Copyright (c) Curzio Malaparte, 1926. English translation copyright (c) Michael McDonald, 2008.